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"INSSSL partners with the Millennium Project to discuss ‘foresight’ on World Future Day"

On March 1st, World Future Day was celebrated across the globe with a particular focus on foresight analysis. The Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) and the Millennium Project partnered to host a round table discussion on long-range strategies to address issues in education, investment and demographics. 

The discussion, chaired by Director General Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, was attended by distinguished guests Dr. Chandra Embuldeniya, former Vice-Chancellor of Uva Wellessa University; Mr. Rathindra Kuruwita, Deputy News Editor of The Island; Dr. Ranga Jayasuriya, Visiting Fellow of INSSSL; esteemed academics; and members of the Sri Lankan military. 

Ruwanthi Jayasekara, Research Assistant (Intern) opened the discussion by stating; 

“If we are getting ready to make a decision with far-reaching, strategic implications, the results of our course of work will affect the scope of outcome… This will indeed affect the whole country…Yet unfortunately, many national governments often find it much harder to use foresight as a tool for strategic planning and risk assessment…” 

Foresight analysis is a tool for understanding the risks, challenges and issues that may arise from future planning in an array of fields. In the Government, foresight analysis is of particular importance in order to combat the threat of a growing population, climate change and transnational organised crime, amongst others. As the world grows in acknowledgment of this field, more and more states are adopting measures to implement foresight analysis such as Finland’s Committee for the Future and Singapore’s foresight officers. Foresight should underpin all decisions made in the public and private sectors; without, planning becomes guesswork and does not compliment real-life scenarios. 

Ms. Jayasekara’s comments were followed by remarks from Mr. Abeyagoonasekera who welcomed guests, stating foresight analysis is a priority for most nations bar Sri Lanka, who has a serious limitation on strategically planed policy. He mentioned 15 challenges the world and Sri Lanka will face in the coming decades, ranging from sustainable development to global ethics. Each of these challenges requires foresight to address, and Mr. Abeyagoonasekera questioned why Sri Lanka lacked designated foresight analysts or studies, suggesting a ‘Futures Ministry’ to tackle these issues. 

Dr. Embuldeniya began his segment by discussing the faults of the education system, which fails to use foresight to understand the importance of breaking down barriers and integrating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics). As the number of STEAM related jobs increases globally, children need to keep up with this demand by learning them at a young age, however, schools and universities often fail to do this. The segment was concluded with reference to a cartoon which was compared to the “absolutely unsuccessful” education system in Sri Lanka, that places incredible emphasis conformity and assessment, rarely focusing on finding the talent and skills in each individual child.

 Dr. Jayasuriya followed up the discussion with commentary on foresight in investment, describing the plausible future of the Port City project as debt pressure and Chinese strategic leverage in Sri Lanka. He followed by emphasising that to attain the preferred future (Port City to represent a global financial hub on par with Dubai) the Government must ensure policy reforms occur with increased strategic cooperation with other countries to lessen Sri Lanka’s dependency on China. However, as Dr. Jayasuriya stated, “we (Sri Lanka) are not good at reforming”, therefore this may prove difficult.  

Mr. Kuruwita concluded discussions by stating “the population has a huge impact on the future” by underpinning all strategic and policy planning. Sri Lanka has a rich body of demographics to draw from, however, they are severely under-utilised, a serious oversight. Mr. Kuruwita mentioned the ageing population combined with the predicted increase of young males. Having a young population isn’t necessarily a bad thing, stated Mr. Kuruwita, but Sri Lanka needs to plan for this by having a purpose and role for them, as the country cannot afford “unhappy, angry kids” once again. 

Talks were concluded with an open discussion on these issues, and it was found that guests agreed Sri Lanka must begin using foresight analysis now to strategically and successfully plan for the future.